The college years are a unique and formative period in many people’s lives and have served as an inspiration to filmmakers throughout the years. For its third annual film festival, Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities will showcase films that meditate on the meaning of higher education in America.
“College: A Film Festival” will be held this weekend at the State Theatre.
“We just thought it would be an opportunity to look at college life from a number of different aspects,” said Dan Willis, interim director of the IAH.
While the IAH promotes research and scholarship, Willis said, a lot of its programming is more applicable to graduate students. In the past year or so, he added, the institute’s directors have been “trying to think of ways to attract undergrads.” As part of that effort, the IAH created an elective course in the English department that explores potential themes of the film festivals.
“We’re really proud that we can offer a one-credit undergrad course,” said Hester Blum, an associate professor of English and interim associate director of the IAH.
While Penn State deals with the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Willis said, the IAH wanted to “remind (students) that college life is bigger than any one university.”
The movies in the festival also examine town-gown relations and “what constitutes a community, what happens at universities and the relationships you make there,” Blum said.
The films that the IAH chose for this year’s festival portray both the serious and comedic aspects of collegiate and post-collegiate life, as well as different viewpoints on university culture and the value of a college education.
“Two films look at life from an outsider’s perspective,” Willis said, referring to “Good Will Hunting,” a 1997 drama starring Matt Damon and Robin Williams, and “Breaking Away,” a 1979 comedy-drama that follows four recent high school graduates in Bloomington, Ind.
The two films meditate on the benefits of a college education, Willis said, and the idea that a college degree “doesn’t always reflect individual worth.”
For many people, college is a time when they challenge social mores inside and outside the classroom. One of the films in the festival, “Mona Lisa Smile,” stars Julia Roberts as a free-thinking art professor who teaches conservative 1950s Wellesley College girls to rethink their traditional societal roles as wives and mothers.
“It’s someone sort of fighting that prejudice and trying to change the expectations of women in college,” Willis said.
Other films in the festival’s lineup take a less heavy-handed approach toward the college experience. Blum admitted that one of her aspirations for the festival was to see “National Lampoon’s Animal House” and “Old School” on the big screen in the same weekend. “Animal House, a 1978 comedy directed by John Landis, is about a misfit group of fraternity members who challenge the dean of their university, Faber College. Filmed for $2.7 million, it is one of the most profitable movies of all time, garnering an estimated return of more than $141 million in the form of videos and DVDs, not including merchandising.
“Old School,” a 2003 comedy, stars Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell as depressed 30-somethings who seek to relive their college days by starting a fraternity, and the tribulations they encounter in doing so.
“I deeply believe it’s a movie about how men in their 30s think about success,” Blum said, adding that the main characters have a “sense of responsibility but can’t let go” of the memory of their carefree college days.
Another offering in the festival is “The Social Network,” a 2010 film that portrays the founding of the social networking website Facebook, which was started by Mark Zuckerberg while he was a student at Harvard. Blum said the film not only is a commentary on Ivy League culture, but also on the way that the nature of relationships has been transformed through social media.
Other films that will be featured include the Hitchcock thriller “Rope,” a 1948 film based on a play of the same name, which was said to be inspired by the real-life murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks in 1924 by two University of Chicago students; and “Scream 2,” a 1997 slasher film set on a college campus, which Blum said portrays how young adults forge new relationships when entering college.
Schedule of filmsSaturday
- Noon:: "Breaking Away"
- 2:15 p.m.: "The Social Network"
- 4:45 p.m.: "Good Will Hunting"
- 7:30 p.m,: "The Big Chill"
- 9:45 p.m.: "Rope"
- 11:30 p.m.: "Animal House"
- Noon: "Mona Lisa Smile"
- 2:30 p.m.: "Wonder Boys"
- 5 p.m.: "The Graduate"
- 7:15 p.m.: "Higher Learning"
- 9:45 p.m.: "Scream 2"
- Midnight: "Old School"